Round 19 of Liga NOS saw F.C. Famalicão travel to Rio Ave to take on the “Vilacondenses” at the Estádio dos Arcos. Entering the match, only three points separated the two sides with Famalicão sitting on 31 points and Rio Ave 28. The contest promised to be an exciting encounter with European football still in sight for either club.
To begin the match, both teams pushed the tempo and pressed high up the pitch. The play was fairly even until some sloppy passing by Rio Ave gifted Famalicão their first goal inside 10 minutes. Famalicão went on to dominate most of the first half, and they doubled their advantage in the 37th minute through Pedro Gonçalves.
Down 2-0 at the break, Rio Ave decided to make two substitutions and switch to a 3-5-2. These adjustments saw the hosts take control of possession and ultimately level the score at 2-2 through strikes by Gelson Dala and Tarantani. Despite some promising attacks by both sides, neither team was able to find a third goal, and the match ended in a draw.
Famalicão opted to begin in 4-1-4-1 formation. From left to right across the backline, João Pedro Sousa selected Alex Centelles, Roderick Miranda, Riccieli, and Lionn. In central midfield, teenage Gustavo Assunção began as a loan pivot, with Pedro Gonçalves and Uroš Račić ahead of him. The wings were occupied by Fábio Martins and Ruben Lameiras, while Toni Martinez spearheaded the attack as the lone striker.
In contrast, Rio Ave preferred a 4-4-2 formation. In defence, Anderllan Santos and Toni Borevković started at centre back with Mattheus Reis to their left and Diogo Figueiras on the right. Acting as a double pivot in front of the backline were Filipe Augusto and Tarantini, while Diego Lopes and Nuno Santos were stationed on the left and right wings respectively. Finally, the Rio Ave attack was led by top-scorer Mehdi Taremi and former Chelsea man, Lucas Piazon.
From the start, it was clear that Famalicão felt they could cause Rio Ave problems by pressing high up the pitch and putting their centre backs under pressure. To construct their press, Pedro Gonçalves would step from midfield to join Toni Martinez and create a 4-4-2 shape as shown below.
Likewise, Rio Ave decided to press 4-4-2. In this set-up, they looked to utilize their two strikers to force play into the wide areas where they could squeeze the space and reduce the impact of Famalicão’s 3v2 advantage in central midfield.
To break Rio Ave’s pressing, Famalicão looked to find their attacking midfielders. They did this by first pushing their wingers high and wide to stretch the space and pin back the Rio Ave outside backs. As this happened, Račić and Gonçalves would drift wider into the halfspaces mid-distance between the Rio Ave backline and midfield to offer a passing lane between the Rio Ave central midfielders and wingers. From this position, they could receive the ball directly from the centre backs as shown below.
Or, Račić and Gonçalves could rotate wide into the space created by their high wingers to receive directly from the outside backs as demonstrated here.
Similarly, Rio Ave also tried to pass through the Famalicão pressure by building with one pivot and positioning two players in the halfspaces. They did this by having one of their central midfielders advance into the left halfspace while Piazon would drift back into the right halfspace as shown below.
Although they employed the same structures in attack, Famalicão were more successful in the opening 10 minutes as a result of sharper passing and a more rigid positional structure. Rio Ave, on the other hand, did not always keep the proper distances and spacing in their positional structure as illustrated above by how deep Piazon came back to receive. On top of that, Rio Ave were at times careless in possession. Consequently, when Filipe Augusto under-hit a pass from a throw-in, Famalicão intercepted and countered to take a 1-0 lead.
This trend continued as the first half wore on, and it eventually led to Famalicão finding their second goal. On this occasion, Augusto was again the guilty party when his nonchalant backheel was picked off by Pedro Gonçalves.
Upon intercepting, Gonçalves played a give and go with Toni Martinez before calmly finishing in the bottom right corner.
Rio Ave’s Second Half Adjustments
Down two goals at halftime and struggling to get into the game, Carlos Carvalhal decided to sub off Lucas Piazon and Diogo Figueiras and switch Rio Ave into a 3-5-2 formation. This alteration was an intelligent move by Carvalhal for a couple reasons. First of all, by taking a defender and moving him into midfield, Rio Ave were no longer out-numbered 3v2 centrally. Therefore, they could employ a man for man pressing organization to suffocate the Famalicão build-up as shown below.
In addition to being advantageous for Rio Ave’s pressing, the 3-5-2 also enhanced the Rio Ave attack. The effectiveness of the system was largely a result of how Rio Ave positioned the two strikers. Rather than letting these players move and interact as a connected strike partnership, Carvalhal positioned one striker between the left centre back and left-back and one striker between the right centre back and right back as shown below.
By positioning the strikers in this way, the Famalicão press was forced into a difficult situation. The problem was that since Rio Ave switched to a three-man build-up, if Famalicão wanted to continue their press, this meant their wingers needed to step higher to apply pressure to the Rio Ave outside centre backs. This then required the Famalicão outside backs to step to the Rio Ave wing-backs. However, the outside backs were reluctant to step to the Rio Ave wing-backs because if they did, the Rio Ave strikers were already positioned to run into the channels and get behind the Famalicão backline as shown below.
As a result, the Famalicão outside backs were frequently getting pinned back by the positioning of the Rio Ave strikers, and this began to cause doubt and confusion in Famalicão’s pressing. For example, at times the Famalicao wingers would end up sitting deeper to help cover the Rio Ave wing-backs, and Rio Ave subsequently used the time and space afforded to their centre backs to score their first goal through a simple direct pass in behind.
At other times, Famalicão would step to press, but certain players in the backline would be hesitant to join the midfield in squeezing the space. This is ultimately how Rio Ave scored their second goal. The midfield had stepped with Toni Martinez to press, but left centre back, Aderllan Santos chose to sit deeper and protect the space rather than close down Gelson Dala. This was a major gaffe by Santos, especially because Dala was playing with his back to goal and was not positioned to exploit the space behind the Famalicão backline.
Because of Santos’ conservative play, Dala was able to turn, penetrate, and slip a pass to Carlos Mané who collected and laid the ball back for Tarantini to slot home.
Although Rio Ave’s switch to a 3-5-2 was extremely successful, it also led to significant chances for Famalicão because Rio Ave defended man for man as previously described. When done properly, defending in this way can smother an opponent’s attacking play. However, if one player loses a duel or if a press is somehow broken, it can lead to numbers down defensive situations as shown below.
Periodically Famalicão found themselves in these situations, and they were able to create golden opportunities like the one below for Toni Martinez, which had an xG of .48.
These chances even appeared late in the match after Rio Ave tied the score. For example, with less than 10 minutes to go, Famalicão found themselves on a 2v1 breakaway in transition.
Fortunately for Rio Ave, Famalicão were incredibly wasteful with these chances. They finished the match with double the xG, shots, and shots on target of Rio Ave, and yet the same amount of goals. Therefore, despite the tactical brilliance of Rio Ave, Famalicão only had themselves to blame for drawing 2-2.
Ultimately, this match turned out to be a tale of two halves, with Famalicão dominating the first half and Rio Ave the second. Famalicão perhaps could have put the game to bed with more clinical finishing, but Rio Ave held on and fought back to earn a gutsy point. With Sporting CP losing to Braga 1-0, both Famalicão and Rio Ave are still very much alive in the hunt for European football.